When Bad Is Good: Art That Offends Is Filling Auctions, Museums, and Galleries. Is There Anything Left to Be Upset About?
“There is nothing worse than good taste,” thundered the English art critic Jonathan Jones in the Guardian in 2010. “Nothing more stultifying than an array of consumer choices paraded as a philosophy of life. And there is nothing more absurd than someone who aspires to show good taste in contemporary art.”
The occasion for such hyperbole was an exhibition of Damien Hirst’s work, at Paul Stolper gallery in London, widely derided by critics. Having often campaigned aggressively for Hirst’s status as a genius, Jones was defending himself against his peers on the slippery slopes of “taste.”
“Where being interested in Hirst would once have counted as good taste in terms of today’s art, it now stands exposed as bad taste,” wrote Jones. “I am happy to display the bad taste of still being interested in him.”
If, as Jones asserts, bad taste is nothing but good taste after a few years of aging, declaring support for someone with a bruised reputation can be just a clever way of getting a jump on next season’s fashion.
But the larger question is whether bad taste is even a consideration anymore. And if so, what might it mean? Take, for example, Hirst’s 2007 sculpture For the Love of God (a.k.a. the “Crystal Skull”), a platinum cast of a human cranium encrusted with 8,601 flawless diamonds: the piece was interpreted by some as a commentary on wretched excess in an art world awed by glamour and swimming in cash, but, whatever Hirst’s satiric intention may have been, it was hard to detect in the asking price of £50 million.